Tag Archives: Everyday Life

Understanding the impact of austerity

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

Closed_all_hours_-_geograph_org_uk_-_530913

Closed all hours This shop, now disused, located in the small village of Ballyroan: Image credit: (c) Liam Murphy Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

David Cameron recently announced plans to introduce  parenting classes, in part as way to combat poverty. Aside from valid criticisms of heteronormativity, troubling assumptions about what makes a “good” family, and a disregard for established support networks, this ignores the complex causes of poverty and impact of austerity.

Sarah M Hall has been conducting long term ethnographic research on families living with, and in, austerity. Much research focuses on large scale economic impacts but Hall works at the level of personal and intimate geographies. This reveals the complexity and diversity of individual lives; there is no one-size-fits-all austerity family experience. Hall is influenced by moral and Feminist geographies and has a deep concern for the ethical impact of her work. The ethnographer is necessarily entangled with the subject of her research and becomes part of their lives for the projects duration. Ethical research acknowledges power dynamics and is constantly aware of researcher positionality but this does not preclude empathy. Indeed Hall suggests research has a caring dimension as “by listening to and empathising with participants, or in providing companionship or intimacy one can provide a caring role” (2016:3).

Decisions on whether to offer financial compensation to research participants take on added weight in times of austerity. Hall did not pay her participants but offered small tokens of gratitude, which often made her part of an extended support network.  The impact of austerity on families can be devastating and Hall describes conversations which she found deeply affecting. However she stresses there is a distance in the research relationship, and differences of experience, which means the researcher must be mindful not to speak for, or steal the voice of, her participants.

Hall confirms JRF (2015) research that states welfare cuts disproportionately harm people already in difficult, precarious and marginalised positions. She also witnesses the unintended consequences of closing services such as libraries and the threat to community groups suffering grant cuts or loss of volunteers who need to find work. Hall treats her participants with the dignity they deserve, and implicitly challenges glib demonization.  It is hard to imagine how parenting classes will help tackle structural inequality or mitigate the very real impact austerity has on families.

References

books_icon Hall, S.M. (2016) Personal, relational and intimate geographies of austerity: ethical and empiral considerations Area 2015 DOI: 10.1111/area.12251 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/area.12251/abstract  (online accessed 15.1.16)

60-world2 JRF  (2015) The Cost of The Cuts: the Impact on Local Government and Poorer Communities Joseph Rowntree Foundation https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/cost-cuts-impact-local-government-and-poorer-communities (Online accessed 15.1.16)

60-world2 The Independent (2016) David Cameron Plans to Make Parenting Classes Normal http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/david-cameron-plans-to-make-parenting-classes-normal-a6804381.html (online accessed 15.1.16)

Arsonists, Booing, and Blaming the Weather: Diversity and Revealing Everyday Behaviour

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

A sign for Gek Poh Ville in Yunnan, Jurong West, Singapore

A sign for Gek Poh Ville in Yunnan, Jurong West, Singapore: Photo Credit: Allkayloh.

The Independent recently published a story about a Christmas Eve arson attack on a hotel for asylum seekers in the German town of Schwäbisch Gmünd. The author implies that this attack highlights how the positive attitude of the German government to the ‘refugee crisis’, does not necessarily reflect the everyday reality of intolerance in many German suburbs. This violent legacy adds fuel to the continuing academic engagement with diverse communities and everyday multiculturalism.

Ye (2015) expands on such a discussion in her recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Turning her attention to the Jurong West neighbourhood of Singapore Ye explores “how everyday encounters in public reproduce spatialised principles of coexisting with diversity.” (Ye, 2015: 94). Ye focusses her engagement to the notion of ‘gui ju’, a kind of social code familiar to established citizens of Singapore. This code, Ye explains, is a behavioural and attitudinal norm promoted in part by state infrastructure and reinforced through everyday action (and inaction) in public spaces.

By turning to everyday interactions between people appropriating public spaces in Jurong West, Ye has created a narrative of the ‘gui ju’ social code in action. She uses extracts from interviews and her own observations to understand different behaviours of individuals familiar with the code – such as people’s silence when they are on public transport or their decorum when playing cards in the street. Uncovering such unwritten norms she is able to add clarity to the “messiness inherent in shared spaces” (ibid.: 91).

Furthermore, Ye elaborates how it is through adherence to ‘gui ju’ that locals in Jurong West can identify insiders and outsiders to the community. She explains that in Singapore, where a legacy of diverse ethnic communities are the norm, tropes like ethnicity or nationality cannot be used to define belonging. As such behaviours and attitudes in everyday interactions can be used instead to identify belonging.

However, to add complexity to her narrative Ye also states that “There are constant tensions, struggles and disquiet over how things ought to be in [public] spaces.” (ibid.: 96). In other words, the unwritten code of conduct applying to everyday life are not fixed, but are contingent and malleable: belonging requires active living in these spaces.

This compelling notion of a “social organising principle that prescribes proper codes of conduct” in public spaces (ibid.: 92), could also be applied to the UK. A quick glance at the national media following the start of the New Year can provide us with some examples. The Guardian has an article about the cultural valence of ‘booing’ in the UK during live performances of art and sport. Similarly The Telegraph discusses difficulties for British people returning to work after the winter break, including the author stating that she will “do what we Brits always do in times of low-level despond: blame the weather”. Additionally both The Guardian and The Independent imply a range of acceptable responses to the ‘artistic’ New Years Eve photograph of drunken and disorderly behaviour in Manchester. These examples highlight a complex and contradictory ‘gui ju’ of British everyday attitudes and behaviour; to boo or not, to condone or to condemn drunken disorder, and when in doubt: refer to the weather.

However, I feel it is necessary to exercise caution with Ye’s thoughts on social codes of conduct. While there may be some dominant codes and norms, such as ‘gui ju’, this does not negate the existence of multiple behavioural codes that remain hidden to each and every one of us. These can include behavioural and attitudinal codes associated with class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and all other tropes of identity. Maybe to help find these hidden codes we should adopt the approach of Mr Arnold, an inhabitant of the town of Schwäbisch Gmünd: we should invite outsiders into our private lives – the “Gmünder Weg” (The Independent). This could enable both insider and outsider to learn their different social codes, and mould them into new shared codes.

References

Ye, J., (2015) Spatialising the politics of coexistence: gui ju (规 矩) in Singapore, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41: 91–103 doi: 10.1111/tran.12107

The Independent (2016) “Refugees in Germany: Arsonists destroy refugee hotel in ‘model’ migrant town Schwabisch Gmund” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Independent (2016) “The story behind the Manchester New Year’s Eve photograph likened to a Renaissance painting” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Guardian (2016) “I used to think booing was healthy. Now it’s out of control” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Telegraph (2016) “The January blues are bad enough without giving up booze too” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Guardian (2016) “’Like a beautiful painting’: image of New Year’s mayhem in Manchester goes viral” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

Talking and laughing together about the sensitive dynamics of mundane everyday practices

By Alison Browne, University of Manchester 

Laundrette. Photo credit: Michael Robinson

Laundrette. Photo credit: (c) Michael Robinson

Winter Wool Wash. Photo Credit: Alison Browne

Winter Wool Wash. Photo Credit: (c) Alison Browne

Fully loaded? Photo Credit: Alison Browne

Fully loaded? Photo Credit: (c) Alison Browne

When was the last time you washed your sheets, and why did you do it? Was it just part of your regular laundry routine? Were they looking a bit grubby? Did you want to get into a clean bed with clean pyjamas for a special Saturday night in? Were you expecting a new bedfellow and want to make a good impression?

Talk about household sustainability butts up against moral and ethical boundaries regarding the sensitivities and intimacies of our day-to-day lives. While policy or business interventions try to persuade us to use less water or energy, such interventions often unintentionally moralise certain types of behaviours. Recent research by the Pew Research Centre and reported in the Guardian (November 2015) shows that there is still a gap in terms of fair distributions of male/female family and household labour.  As such the practices which they try to influence and intervene with are often very gendered, for example, focusing on how to do more energy and water efficient laundry, a task that is still overwhelming performed by women.

As geographical and allied social science research has tried to understand the dynamics and patterns of everyday resource consumption, the range of methods we use has become increasingly nuanced. Some of these methods such as CCTV or video are often used as a way of understanding how people do everyday practices and give interesting insights into public practices like cycling and mobility.

In a domestic space these forms of surveillance are connected to increasing ‘big data’ capabilities to track and understand the use of resources such as energy and water in the home enabled through the internet of things. However, such methods might not be appropriate given how awkward and intimate some of these resource consuming practices can be (e.g., what motivates you to wash your sheets, or take a shower).

The research methods used to understand everyday resource use related to cleanliness practices in the home (laundry, home cleaning, personal washing) often pushes us towards these intimately political aspects of energy and water use.

In the article “Can people talk about their practices?” I reflect on the need to apply new research methods in order to access and articulate these sensitive dynamics of everyday practice. The research reflects on six focus groups on ‘bodies, clothes, dirt and cleanliness’.  Enabling people to talk together about their practices in light gossip style, with humour and laughter can undo some of the unease that can be experienced when talking about these issues in one-to-one research interviews.

The article explores the ethics and politics of everyday life research in geography, and responds to calls for greater consideration of gender and bodies within human geography research. However, it also highlights the ethical and moral issues of gender embedded in everyday consumption, which is often a target of sustainability policy.

About the author: Dr Alison Browne is a Lecturer in Human Geography and Research Fellow at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester.

books_icon Browne, A. L. (2015), Can people talk together about their practices? Focus groups, humour and the sensitive dynamics of everyday life. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12250

60-world2 Valenti, J. 2015. Men think they do equal work at home, when facts show otherwise. The Guardian

Reframing civil society through the everyday: from farms to toilets

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University

The evolving role of civil society in the development agenda is a critical point of discussion, as Peck (2015) rightly argues in her recent article in the Geography Compass. A key aspect of what is considered as ‘civil society’ builds on traditional notions of getting involved in development ‘from the outside’ separating the donors and those who are seen as providing support, and those receiving it. But when it comes to assessing and evaluating precisely the significance of civil society, it is important to look at the individuals who are getting involved as part of their everyday practices to bring about change, and the subsequent consequences for everyday lives. As reported in The Guardian, it is with the support of civil society organisations such as NGO’s that female farmers in the region of Samburu in Kenya can be empowered to provide for their families with the uncertainties of climate change through their existing roles. But, is it enough to look at livelihood practices alone as a way forward for civil society, or should we turn to the mundane, hidden yet significant elements of the ‘everyday’?

World_Toilet_Day_WTD_Logo

On the 19th November 2015, the UN held World Toilet Day which was marked across the globe. The Guardian provided a stark reminder of the fact that 774 million people in India alone still lack access to a toilet. Access to adequate sanitation is a human right for all, yet a place to find relief is still a critical issue for many. As the Sustainable Development Goals call for ‘availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ (UN, 2015), the role of civil society in meeting these targets remains crucial. The Right to Pee movement in India provides an example of how women are being specifically targeted as a group who require a safe place for defecation, and often require toilets to deal with secretive issues such as menstruation. Therefore it can be said that paying attention to hidden stories of different groups of the everyday, including the use of toilets and livelihood practices, can truly be a significant way forward for development. In the bigger picture, it remains to be seen whether civil society is the only relevant actor in understandings of the everyday, or whether a global cooperation between civil society and governments is the way forward to nurture and focus the attention of the world onto the everyday. Finally, as Robert Chambers (1997) questioned, ‘Whose reality counts?’ and whose everyday, and which aspects of their everyday, will we look at?

60-world2 BBC 2015 100 Women 2015: India’s ‘right to pee’

books_icon Chambers, R (1997) Whose Reality Counts? Putting the first last London: Intermediate Technology Publications

60-world2 Kibet R 2015 On Kenya’s climate frontline, female farmers are building a secure future  The Guardian

books_icon Peck, S (2015) Civil Society, Everyday Life and the Possibilities for Development Studies  doi: 10.1111/gec3.12245.